Tag Archives: Christmas

Worship Wednesday – The Hope of Christmas – Matthew West

Photo Credit: Harriet Long, Facebook

Out of the depths I call to you, Lord!
Lord, listen to my voice; let your ears be attentive to my cry for help.

I wait for the Lord; I wait and put my hope in his word.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning—
more than watchmen for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord. For there is faithful love with the Lord, and with him is redemption in abundance.Psalm 130:1-2, 5-7

Writer Ann Voskamp talks about Advent and the healing hope we have in Christ.

“I thought I lost hope when life tore a hole in my back pocket of my heart, and my creased and worn-out hope fell out when the bottom of things fell out — you know: when the door clicked close for the last time.  When that email landed and kicked hard right in the gut.  When the doctor shook his head slow and the room kinda spun, when too many mattering things felt impossibly wrecked, and it’s your life that can feel sorta totaled, and how do you keep going on hoping — when it’s the important parts of your life that are write offs?

But who knew that folded and creased Hope unfolds into wings?

Turns out: You can think you’ve lost hope, or you can try to shield yourself from it, abandon it, mock it, guard against it or try to trash it.

But hope is a rising thing and flies to you.

No matter where you are — in the unknown and unfamiliar — Hope is like a homing pigeon that knows how to find its way back home to you. Because Hope has an inner map and will always wing its way back to you.” – Ann Voskamp

Hard to Keep Hoping? The Secret to Finding a Way Forward – Ann Voskamp

Worship with me, considering the truth of singer songwriter Matthew West’s The Hope of Christmas.

Take me back to eight years old
The little church on a dead-end road
With a candle flicker in one hand and dad’s hand in the other
Take me back to Silent Night
My heart was full and the world was right
Cause right now the world looks nothing like those innocent Decembers
These days peace on earth is hard to find
And I need you to remind me one more time

You’re still the hope of Christmas
You’re still the light when the world looks dark
You’re still the hope of Christmas
And You’re still the hope of my heart

Watch the snowflakes falling down
Like a blanket on this town
For a moment we can hardly see the pain this year has brought us
May the sick find healing’s touch
May hatred’s fight be won with love
And may every heart make room for you the One who came to save us

You’re still the hope of Christmas
You’re still the light when the world looks dark
You’re still the hope of Christmas
And You’re still the hope of my heart

I bowed my head to pray tonight
Felt my little girl by my side
She slipped her tiny hand in mine
And we both talked to You
And it took me back to eight years old
My daddy’s hand and a story told
About Heaven’s love in a manger low
And a promise that’s still true

You’re still the hope of Christmas
You’re still the light when the world looks dark
You’re still the hope of Christmas
And You’re still the hope of my heart*

Put your hope in the Lord. For there is faithful love with the Lord, and with him is redemption in abundance.” – Psalm 130:7

*Lyrics to The Hope of Christmas – Songwriter: Matthew West

Monday Morning Moment – Hope in Christmas Lonesomeness

Holidays can be lonesome. We all get that. Any of us who has had to be away from family, because of distance or work obligations, know the ache of celebrations missed…people missed. We make the best of it, of course, but we miss the memories not made.

Now, for some, Christmas is not a happy holiday. My dad died on Christmas Day. Other Christmases were spent far from our families. Or we may have other, painful reasons for not thinking of Christmas as a happy time. The lonesomeness can be right under the surface in a room full of people. We may have all the trappings of a happy holiday…but…

Then…add COVID-19.

Writer Joe Pinsker has posted an insightful piece on our experience of COVID 2020 – The Year We Lost – When We Look Back on 2020, Will We See Past All the Things That Didn’t Happen?

He talks about the missed celebrations, the delays in academic and career goals, the mass exit from our public lives…and how we have been affected. He also points to the lack of punctuation that holidays usually bring us…the missed comfort of rituals we have held dear or at least help define who we are as people attached to others.

The general shortage of chapter breaks in 2020 has three notable consequences.

  • First, as researchers have demonstrated, moments of transition can prompt people to reappraise their habits, and perhaps adopt new ones.
  • Second, a year without celebrations means fewer vivid memories—and looking back on vivid memories is one way people mark the passing of time.
  • Third, and maybe most powerfully, missing out on full-fledged birthday parties, baby showers, and so on can feel like cutting pages out of one’s life story. Rites marking important milestones “play a key role in shaping what we call our narrative self, the sense of who we are and how we came to be that person. – Joe Pinsker

This is where I want to pull us back from the edge.

I understand lonesomeness…it is my experience sometime during every Christmas. I miss my Dad…my Mom (who died almost 20 years ago…still miss her every day). We live still separated geographically from many in our family. All the gift-buying-and-giving is stressful, right? The question of “Did I do enough?” is both agonizing and ridiculous.

There is a longing that seems to belong especially to Christmas. A longing for something more…something beyond this world… something that doesn’t hurt. We we find ourselves in this mindset, we have to “pull up”. We have to shake off the darkness in order to see the light.

I am not saying that is easy. COVID has given us plenty of darkness this year. We do not have to let it take Christmas…not this year.

Maybe you like us won’t get to be with family and friends this Christmas. Even our Christmas Eve candlelight service is happening via Facebook Live. It is what it is this year.

We can fight to step away from the loneliness…the ache of lonesomeness. It does take some effort, but our being present, our showing up, matters. Not just to others, but to each of us personally.

We step outside. We use our phones to actually make a call. We pull some cans of food out of our pantry to feed someone else. We forgive. We ask forgiveness. We remember Jesus. He had to have been lonesome for intimacy with his Father in those years he came so close to us. He understands.

We remember. We receive. We re-enter.

Too often we have heard (and maybe said) “I can’t wait until it gets back to normal”. Or “I wonder what the ‘new’ normal will be after COVID”. We don’t have to be passive recipients of what is coming.

We turn the waiting of this year…the isolation of this year…into hope for the coming Savior…hope of the filling that this season can bring, even in the presence of a pandemic.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Contemplative Monk

2020: The Year We Lost (A Year Without Parties, Celebrations or Ambition) – Joe Pinsker

The Story of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s great losses that inspired the carol “I Heard the Bells” – Facebook

To the Lonely at Christmas – a Poem – Secret Angel

5 Friday Faves – Christmas Guitar Mix, the Mercy of Forgiveness, Virtual Christmas Parties, Festive Foods, and Forever Friends

Friday. Deep breath. Hope you can rest some and take in all the sweetness of this time of you. Here are this week’s favorite finds.

1) Christmas Guitar Mix Nathan at Beyond the Guitar has arranged guitar pieces for each Christmas over the past few years. Looking forward to the one coming out this year also (a surprise so far). Here’s the collection so far. Enjoy!Photo Credit: Tyler Scheerschmidt, TSVideoProduction

YouTube Video – 3 Christmas Movie Classics on Guitar – Beyond the Guitar

YouTube Video – A Star Wars Christmas – Classical Guitar Mashup – Beyond the Guitar

YouTube Video – December Song (Peter Hollens) – Classical Guitar Cover – Beyond the Guitar

YouTube Video – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (w/ Surprise Guest!) – Beyond the Guitar

2) The Mercy of Forgiveness – Talking to my sweet mom-in-law this morning, and she was commenting on how “life is too short for unforgiveness”. Immediately the thought came to mind “and eternal life is way too long for unforgiveness”. We may have a lot to forgive, and we may think we have forgiven (willing & hoping to never see that person again in our lives)…the thing is, I’m pretty sure we know in our hearts if we have truly forgiven or not. Unforgiveness is living in the past, ruminating over the offenses and the person who did them, negative thoughts that permeate our mind. Can’t get clear of them …without forgiveness. Photo Credit: Twitter, C. S. Lewis

Peace in the present…that’s what forgiveness gives. It also frees us from the self-imposed imprisonment of unforgiveness…which imprisons us, our families/friends/coworkers – depending who all our unforgiveness includes. Forgiveness – it’s what we’re counting on from God. How can we think our reasons for unforgiveness are higher than His in forgiving us? Peace. P.S. I get how hard unforgiveness can be. So thankful my mom (in Heaven now for almost 20 years) practiced and taught us to keep short accounts with others. Short accounts, knowing we can hurt others, too…and we do.

The following is an excerpt from an excellent piece on “Forgiveness in the Family” by writer Ed Chinn:

“Every home (like every other micro-society) has a distinct culture. In other words, every home reflects a pattern of unspoken assumptions which convey the approved way to perceive, think, and feel.

One of the most important things parents can do is to create a culture of forgiveness in the home.

It begins with a gracious tongue. Parents should be quick (and sincere) to speak grace into every corner of family life. The language of graces and manners – “Please,” “thank you,” “pardon me,” and “I’m sorry” — should flavor the family conversation.

Additionally, parents should not tolerate disrespect, shrillness, selfishness or cynicism.

We didn’t dishonor our children; they couldn’t either. House rules.

[Included in our house rules as well]

Forgiveness should never be extended purely as a model or teaching tool. However, parents should be quick to apologize to each other and to the children. And, of course, children should be taught how to extend and receive forgiveness.

In view of God’s incomprehensible generosity, how can we remain locked up in the prison of resentment? We are free to forgive each other freely and generously because we have been freely and generously forgiven.”Ed ChinnPhoto Credit: Flowers On the Rubbish Heap; Forgiveness by C.S. Lewis

Scriptures on Forgiveness: Even When It’s Hard – Sunshyne Gray

How to Let Go of Resentment and Grudges – Sunshyne Gray

7 Dangers of Embracing Mere Therapeutic Forgiveness – Mike Leake

Therapy & Theology: What Forgiveness Isn’t and Isn’t According to the Bible – Proverbs 31 Ministries; Podcast with Lysa Terkeurst Transcript from the Podcast

Pinterest Page with Forgiveness Quotes

Photo Credit: Sunshyne Gray Christian Counseling & Coaching

3) Virtual Christmas Parties – Most all of our Christmas festivities this year have been cancelled thanks to COVID. Well, except for small family gatherings. We did decide to convert one annual friend party into a virtual “get-together”. A White Elephant gift exchange has always been part of our party tradition. How do we do that, physically distanced?

We gathered on a zoom call and chatted while we all ate our respective suppers in our respective dining or living rooms.

[A surprise element to this party was also a gender reveal. So fun!]

We had some extra gifts in case folks forgot or just didn’t come prepared…we had it covered.

Each party friend took turns choosing a gift. With Zoom, we just showed off the gift we had made or bought and kept it in view as turns were taken and gifts were secured or stolen by another.

In the days after the party, we work out a driveway visit with those who chose our White Elephant gifts. What a plus that we get to see our friends face-to-face, albeit physically distanced. Sweet times.

How about you? How have you altered your festivities? Please comment below. We all need ideas for this year, especially.

4) Festive Foods – So many holidays have festive foods attached to them. When friends of ours dropped by this past week, for a backyard visit, they brought a copy of their Christmas menu. They live in a 55+ community and will have these foods offered in their dining room. It was sumptuous with something yummy for everyone.

As we count down to Christmas, all sorts of goodies are gifted or created in our own kitchens.

What are some of your festive foods? Again, please share in Comments. The stew below isn’t attached to Christmas memories. It is a meatball tajine with memories of Morocco in every bite. Yum!

5) Forever Friends – I wanted to close with a salute to those forever friends in our lives. Because of COVID and all the restrictions, like many of you, I have not visited with friends as often or in the more usual ways. It’s been nine months now…nine months. Our friends, especially those who live out of town, have kept in touch by phone, social media messaging, and video calls. Even cards as birthdays and holidays have passed without our seeing so much of each other… or not at all. What a blessing that we have forever friends who will hang in there with us through this and whatever comes after.

On one of my rare outings to a favorite thrift store recently, I found this little Pooh ornament. The sentiment is true. So thankful for you.

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That’s it for this week…hope you have a weekend full of peace and joy. Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, and Merry, Merry Christmas!

Bonuses:

Crossroads Christmas Special with Lecrae and Amy Grant

Food Bank Collection at Home with Help from the Little Ones

To Live Remarkably, Repeat This One Affirmation Every Single Day for the Rest of Your Life – Jeff Haden

What Can You Do When You’re Flattened by Depression? Plan for It – Daryl Chen

The Rockettes Are Teaching Free Virtual Dance Classes This Holiday Season – Faith Brar

Facebook capture – the story of actor James Stewart, PTSD, and “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Video below is a walk down memory lane for me. Having lived in Cairo for many years, this was fun to watch some old familiar places.

Worship Wednesday – When Earnestly Wrong – Behold! – Plumb

[A theme “Behold” – See! – continues this month in Worship Wednesday – last week’s blog Behold Him is found here.]

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:19

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...” – Jesus – Matthew 5:43-44

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – Jesus – John 13:34-15

This week I oddly became the target of some Twitter hate, related to my politics and a comment I had made. It was nothing – social media stone-throwing doesn’t usually have an effect if you have nothing to lose. Plenty of folks reacted in my defense, but when the last person commented (to me) that what I expressed was “shameful” – and she was also a Christ-follower, I finally had to respond: “You don’t know me”.

With the greatest of earnestness, was I wrong? Was she?

How do we respond to each other when what we think or believe is contested? What goes on in our hearts when our reputation seems at stake? How do we process a situation when what we were longing for…what we had hoped would happen…didn’t. Do we throw in the towel on relationships that get complicated, or even hurtful, because we don’t want to do the work of reconciling them…or nurturing them back to health. Do we want our way more than God’s?

Could we be earnestly wrong about such things?

The Jews of Jesus’ day were earnestly wrong about the coming Messiah. Oh, not that they weren’t looking for him…but he was supposed to be a “conquering king on a white horse, not the suffering servant…. Should they have known about the Messiah coming first as a baby?”

Yes. The Scriptures are full of prophecies and promises about the Messiah…There would be those who received Jesus…and through the ages there will be…as Himself, not as we wish he would be…our own made-up messiah.

When we want something that doesn’t go the way we think it should, something dark can happen in our hearts. Something dark that we then take out on others…even on God Himself.

The real Jesus calls us to trust him even in the darkness of our current circumstances. He calls us to love when we would rather hate. He calls us to speak and live in the truth, when we would rather just give the perception of doing so, without the reality displayed in our lives.

Whether my Twitter foe knew me or not…God knows me…and loves me…and wants what’s better for me than even I want for myself. When I stated to her, “You don’t know me”, my own self-protective heart was exposed. She didn’t know me…did she see Jesus in me?

Singer, songwriter Plumb talks about Advent being the season of anticipation. When we set our hearts on who God is, who we are as His image-bearers, and whatever His purposes might be, we can look forward with joy…for the coming of Christ. This Christmas. This coming year. Into every circumstance and every relationship.

“We in our own lives anticipate things coming or happening and sometimes they don’t happen or they don’t come in such a way that we thought or we expect or we wanted. We can still trust in the same God who knew what we needed then in a Baby. He knows what we need now in our own lives, no matter what. Behold, He has come, and He knows exactly what we need, and we can trust Him.”Plumb

Worship with me to Plumb’s Christmas worship song “Behold”.

Years of silence
Waiting on a king
They thought they knew who you would be
A soldier, fearless and strong
A warrior, but they were wrong

In the darkest night
Came brightest light

Behold
Behold
A baby’s birth
Precious lamb of God
Behold
Behold
Your gift to us
Savior of the world

So we pray
We ask and seek
When the answers don’t come easily
And when they’re not what we expect
Help us to trust you even then

In our darkest night
Be the brightest light

Behold
Behold
A baby’s birth
Precious lamb of God
Behold
Behold
Your gift to us
Savior of the world

Unlikely Joy
Anticipated hope
Give us your peace
Undeserved love
Such relentless grace
You are our king

Behold
Behold
A baby’s birth
Precious lamb of God
Behold
Behold
Your gift to us
Savior of the world*

As we count down to Christmas and to the end of 2020, a hard year (harder for some of us than we ever thought), we have an opportunity to examine our own hearts. Have we been earnestly wrong in dealing with a situation? Have we taken our own counsel about a relationship and not God’s (the Scripture is bursting with His great wisdom)? Has our resoluteness in our own rightness (in politics, or any other stand) jammed a wedge between us and someone He also loves? If so, there can be forgiveness…

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”Philippians 2:5-8

“Oh come to my heart, Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for Thee.”

*Lyrics: Behold – Songwriters: Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (Plumb), Christa Wells, and Jerrod Morris

YouTube Video – The Story Behind the Song “Behold” – Plumb

Isaiah 43:19 Commentaries

Advent and Christmas Music in the Midst of COVID-19 – Diana Sanchez-Bushong – includes the program of a Service of Lessons and Carols

5 Friday Faves – Self-care and the Ever Changing Science of COVID-19, Christmas Canstructions, Clint Bruce Elites, Seasonal Kindnesses, and a Call to More Than Politics

Happy weekend. Last month of 2020. December. Much to process and to be thankful for.

1) Self-care and the Ever Changing Science of COVID-19 – This has been a week of COVID awareness becoming more personally as we lost a dear old friend to COVID and have family friends in another country battling it. We are wise to do what we can to keep it away, without giving way to the media-induced hysteria it can also bring.

The most comprehensive and accessible clinical information for all of us has come from a 39-page article by Dr. Paul Marik, professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine. This article is updated periodically so if you click on and don’t find it just search for EVMS Critical Care COVID-19 Management Protocol. It covers the prevention of COVID-19 right through to the critical management of COVID patients with life-threatening disease. The article is definitely written for the clinician, but the most salient points can be understood by any of us.

Below are his current recommendations for prevention (p. 6):

  • Masks, social distancing, and avoidance of large groups of people.
  • Vitamin D3 1000-3000 iu/day. Note RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is 800-1000 iu/day.
  • Vitamin C 500 mg BID (twice daily) and Quercetin 250 mg daily. There are some exceptions to the use of Quercetin, so read his article.
  • Melatonin (slow release): Begin with 0.3 mg and increase as tolerated to 2 mg at night.
  • Zinc 30-50 mg/day (elemental zinc).
  • B complex vitamins.
  • Ivermectin for postexposure prophylaxis. 200 ug/kg (12 mg) immediately then repeat day 3.
  • or
  • •Ivermectin for pre-exposure prophylaxis and for prophylaxis in high risk individuals (> 60 years with co-morbidities, morbid obesity, long term care facilities, etc). 150-200 ug/kg (or 12 mg) Day 1, Day 3 and then every 4 weeks. Ivermectin has a number of potentially serious drug-drug interactions.
  • Optional: Famotidine 20-40 mg/day.
  • Optional/Experimental: Interferon-α nasal spray for health care workers.

Photo Credit: Screenshot, Paul Marik’s EVMS Critical Care COVID-19 Management Protocol

2) Christmas Canstructions – Movement Church prepared an Advent calendar of readings in the Psalms. It is also a prompt to respond to the food scarcity issue for some of our city’s residents. One item a day through the month of December.

I love canstructions, so we made one with our gathered food.

3) Navy Seal Clint Bruce’s Elites –The word “elite” has taken on an unsavory meaning in my vocabulary this year. Seeing too much of small groups of people with enormous political clout, manipulating outcomes and moving public opinion…changing the foundational values of our country. OK…then I heard Navy Seal veteran Clint Bruce talk about being elite, as a much more positive other-focused  position or attitude. Check out the short podcast below for the basics:

How to Train the Mind with Clint Bruce – Jennie Allen Podcast

Bruce talked about what it means to be elite vs. excellent. Excellent is a mentality of “done” or “arrived”. Elite is to know you’re “not done”…understanding there is always more to learn, more preparation, more experience.

He speaks (on YouTube and in numerous podcasts – look them up) about five “pursuit points” of being elite.

  • Balanced – creating a high ground (faith, family, friends) for hard days because they will come
  • Curious – doing the work of finding out what more you need to know
  • Tribal – aiming at something bigger than themselves; needing people
  • Intentional – knowing the why of whatever they’re doing
  • Authentic – real; in the light; preaching from their pain and sharing their scars.

These are just five of the points he makes and then goes into greater depth in his teaching (two talks are linked below in YouTube).

YouTube Video – Clint Bruce – Pursuing Elite: Leadership Lessons

YouTube Video – Clint Bruce Keynote – Pursuing Elite – the Five Gifts of Elite Achievers

He puts interesting twists on familiar words. He defines precision, for instance, as “not being right more but being wrong less”. Also, his definition of endurance is “being wrong less for longer than your competitor”. He also talks about discipline as being “reduction” – learning what the mission doesn’t need, so you become more agile.

Bruce referenced this scene from the film Act of Valor. It’s beautiful.

4) Seasonal Kindnesses – A new book by the Voskamp Family has sparked a new adventure of watching for and executing acts of kindness through this month of December. We are using a little star to cue up kindnesses. If I have the star, I do a kindness (or more) for another family member, and then leave that star in their home space. They then take the next 24 hours to do the same for someone else.

Seasonal (Christmas) kindnesses are such a refreshment. People going out of their way to treat others with a kind word or service. Here are just a few that have lifted my heart. Use the Comments to share some of your own heart-lifts this season.

[Also don’t let these be a negative when your capacity is stretched about as far as it can be. Enjoy kindnesses coming your way. Even a smile crinkles through a COVID mask, or a word of gratitude is enough to lift the spirits of others.]

  • Mike is one of our faithful delivery guys. Excellent and kind in all he does.They deserve special treats and some sweet folks make sure they have them (I confess it isn’t me…but it has inspired me). 

#ThanksForDelivering – UPS Coloring Sheets

  • You know those people who, no matter when you show up, they offer you a snack or even a small plate to nourish your body and soul?

 

  • My 5 y/o granddaughter remarked recently when seeing a neighbor’s yard, “She’s so festive!” Fun and festive! Thankful for all the work that goes into bringing some extra light into our dark winter nights:
  • Those friends and family who still send Christmas cards, little presents through the mail, and even a tea break:
  • Times together tempered by COVID restrictions:
  • Brunch geared toward grandchildren – them telling jokes to each other 
  • Christmas brunch with friends – provision made for those of us (more COVID-vulnerable) to hang together outside, warmed by a fire pit and a bowl of chili. S’mores station for dessert.

5) A Call to More Than PoliticsThis weekend President Trump comes to my beloved home state, Georgia. Another huge rally. Some are reporting this may be his last big rally as President of the United States. Do we look to him for hope? Do we look to the next administration for hope? “Evangelical Christians”, as a political bloc, have taken some heat over the last four years for their/our perceived support of our current President.

As an evangelical Christian, I will take the heat…not for any party’s benefit at keeping us divided, but because of the worthiness of Christ. Our greatest hope is not in either political party. Our greatest hope, which, by the way, will never be disappointed, is in the Kingdom of God, the worthy reign of our Messiah. What is our hope? To infuse our lives, to overflowing, with the Good News and great goodness of God Almighty. He is for us. Let’s get our heads and hearts right and stand for Him…as we reach our hands out to all around us. No government can do what He means to happen in this world – for our good and His glory.

Photo Credit: Len Lacroix, Seeking the Lord

If My People Who Are Called By My Name – Len Lacroix

This medley by the worship community Tribl says it all through the songs Is He Worthy?, Agnus Dei, and We Fall Down:

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Bonuses:

“Covid ended our marriage”: The Couples Who Split in the Pandemic – Emma Ailes

Songs of Hope: A TGC Advent Concert

With all the hard this year, there must have been a huge harvest of Honeycrisp apples. Look at this price!

Here’s to all those gardeners out there (my husband being my favorite) who tend their gardens through the winter to bring beauty all year round. Those behind-the-scenes people in our lives – yay!

Worship Wednesday – December Song – Peter Hollens

Photo Credit: Deseret News

[Adapted from the Archives]

Let’s glory for a moment at the dawn of hope that is Christ Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:1-5

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6

…and rejoice in what is possible for us to have with each other, in Him and through Him:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.John 13:34-35

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.John 17:20-23

The world feels more dark than usual right now…with COVID and the great divides between people. How glorious that a Light pierces that darkness! That a Love so utterly other gathers us to Himself and to each other such that we can bring His light into the darkest of places and the unlikeliest of situations.

One of the great treats of the long cold month of December (being the Northern Hemisphere here) is the music. There is so much joy in all the Christmas-related music that lights up our lives and warms our hearts.

December Song by Peter Hollens is a sweet example of that music.

[Sidebar: Peter Hollens is a master at bringing people together to create something beautiful. In fact, how he first came to my attention was through a music competition. …he would collaborate with the winner on a future project. Nathan (of Beyond the Guitar) submitted a cover of December Song. He was one of 600 contestants in the competition. Although he didn’t win, he landed in the top 17.]

Besides the beauty of Hollens’ music, his inclusion of others and his joyful exuberance are so winsome. December Song is a celebration of the Christmas message of “peace on earth, good will toward all”. It also expresses the longing for that to continue past this season…this season of Christmas.

Peter Hollens, in his own way, tends that desire through his many collaborations…lavishing love on and delight in others through the medium of music.

At Christmastime, we celebrate the Lord Jesus who came near to us and brought His life, light, and love. He shows the way for us to love each other well…even when we are so different. Even when our flesh cries out to be divided from each other. Even when a pandemic separates us. He is for us and will move us to creative ways to love even in the hard…because He does that.

As we seek to follow Jesus and surrender our wills to His, we can be confident that His peace and His joy need not change with the seasons.

Let’s worship together with this song…until we can fully worship together – unified as God calls us to be.

In December,
We give our gifts
Wishing well to our world,
Peace on Earth to everyone.
A time to be joyful
When all is calm and all is bright

But why?
Does it change with the seasons?
And why can’t we just hold on?

To silent nights,
Holy nights and angels singing lullabies,
And Heaven and nature, singing good will to all…
To all…

There are times
I can remember with family and friends the light of Christmas
Radiates
Lights of my memories
The magic of love
We made time

But why?
Does it change with the seasons?
And why can’t we just hold on?

To silent nights,
Holy nights and angels singing lullabies
And Heaven and nature, singing good will to all…
To all…

O, come let us adore him
O, come let us adore him
O, come let us adore him
O, Night Divine
(Night divine!)

And those silent nights,
Holy nights and angels singing lullabies,
And Heaven and nature singing good will to all…
To all…
To all
And those silent nights,
Holy nights and angels singing lullabies,
And Heaven and nature singing good will to all…
To all…
To all…*Photo Credit: Pinterest

“to Silent Nights
Holy Nights
And Angels Singing
Lullabies and
Heaven and Nature
Singing Good Will To All… To All”*

*Lyrics by Peter Hollens and Anna Gilbert (lyric video)

Hollens Family Christmas Album

December Song arranged by Nathan Mills, Beyond the Guitar

Worship Wednesday – Son of God – Michael W. Smith

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.Isaiah 9:6-7

I really have no words today…just want to focus this busy mind of mine on the quiet exquisiteness of God. To reflect on His love and provision for us. To lean in and trust Him whom we know to be wholly trustworthy.

Songwriter Michael W. Smith‘s simple but majestic song Son of God centers us on the goodness and greatness of God.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.Philippians 2:5-7

Worship with me.

Son of God, purest light, Lord on high is here tonight
Stamping through, this sacred sky suddenly our eyes behold
Heaven’s perfect plan unfold, Son of God

Son of God, love divine, timeless one, steps in to die
Who could dream of such a thing with us now the King of Kings
Man and angels bow and sing, singing Hallelujah, Hallelujah

We’re singing Gloria, Hallelujah
We’re singing Gloria, Hallelujah
We’re singing Gloria, Hallelujah
We’re singing Gloria

We’re singing Gloria, Hallelujah
We’re singing Gloria, Hallelujah
We’re singing Gloria, Hallelujah
(We’re singing Gloria)

We’re singing Gloria, Hallelujah
(Emmanuel)
We’re singing Gloria, Hallelujah
(Emmanuel)
We’re singing Gloria, Hallelujah

Our God is with us
Emmanuel, our God is with us
(We’re singing Hallelujah)
Singing Gloria*

*Lyrics to Son of God – Michael W. Smith

Worship Wednesday – Christmas in October – Peace on Earth – Casting Crowns

Photo Credit: Casting Crowns, YouTube

Adapted from the Archives

[Our family begins singing/listening to Christmas carols in October. Too many beautiful, God-glorifying songs to fit in one month. So…Christmas in October starts tomorrow…and we sure need it …Him.]

“See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in—see, he is coming,” says the Lord of Armies.

You have said, “It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping his requirements and walking mournfully before the Lord of Armies?  So now we consider the arrogant to be fortunate. Not only do those who commit wickedness prosper, they even test God and escape.”

At that time those who feared the Lord spoke to one another. The Lord took notice and listened. So a book of remembrance was written before him for those who feared the Lord and had high regard for his name.  “They will be mine,” says the Lord of Armies, “my own possession on the day I am preparing. I will have compassion on them as a man has compassion on his son who serves him. Malachi 3:1, 14-17

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord… And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” – Luke 2:10-11, 13-14

In December, 1863, American poet and scholar Henry W. Longfellow received his wounded son home from battle. It was Christmas time, and the U.S. Civil War raged on. Having already lost his wife years earlier, Longfellow nursed his son, Charley, back to health. His own thoughts, in turmoil over all that was happening around him, he poured out in the poem “Christmas Bells”.

Longfellow clearly took comfort from God as he wrote, ending the poem with this stanza:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”*

I Heard the Bells is a Christmas carol, not a worship anthem. Yet, given continuing wars and current hardships, we must tend the fires of our hope. God is the “lifter of our heads” (Psalm 3:3). He is the One who gives strength to our “weak hands and shaking knees” (Isaiah 35:3). He will do as He’s promised. He is faithful.

We desperately need those bells of Christmas ringing over our cities and countrysides.In fact, wouldn’t it be a lovely concert to hear church bells ringing together over the din of divisiveness right now.

We, in our fleshing out the love of Christ, are the Christmas bells in our culture. May we never be the noisy gong or clanging cymbal of those without love! May we, like Longfellow, nurse those we love, wounded in this world’s battles, back to wholeness and a living hope in Christ.

When you hear the bells ring where you are, take heart in that. We will continue to pray for His peace on earth…and in our own hearts.  We can be vessels of His good-will toward our neighbors, both very near…and far away.

Worship with me…

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Lyric video)

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men

And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (Peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep (Peace on Earth, peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Then ringing singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they’re ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (Peace on Earth)
And with our hearts we’ll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The life the angels singing (Peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men*

* Lyrics to I Heard the Bells – Casting Crowns – Writers: Mark Hall, Dale Oliver, and Bernhard Herms

YouTube Video – Casting Crowns performing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Casting Crowns’ Mark Hall On Christmas (Teaching Vignettes)

Christmas Carol Soldier – Story of Charley Appleton Longfellow & the occasion for H. W. Longfellow’s writing of the poem/lyric

The Story Behind I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day – Tom Stewart

*Longfellow’s poem Christmas Bells

5 Friday Faves – Classical Guitar Loveliness, Spoiling Our Children, Answered Prayer, the Gentling Nature of Christmas, and a Bunch of Great Reads

Happy New Year! With travel and a family illness, I have been more out-of-pocket than usual. It will show in my Friday Faves. Some of them are carry-overs from previous weeks but not to be missed. Hope your New Year is off to a grand start.

1) Classical Guitar Loveliness – Since it’s been a bit, this Friday Faves includes 3 videos by Nathan Mills at Beyond the Guitar. Enjoy!

  • The Witcher 3: The Slopes Of The Blessure – composed by Piotr Musial.  Arranged and performed by Nathan Mills.

  • Netflix “The Witcher”: Toss A Coin To Your Witcher – composed by Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli. Arranged and performed by Nathan Mills.

  • FRIENDS – “I’ll Be There For You” – composed by The Rembrandts. Arranged and performed by Nathan Mills.

2) Spoiling our Children – What does that even mean really? We all want the best for our children…at least we want to want it, for sure.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Wikimedia

As parents we have many layers of responsibilities plus we are faced with our own inadequacies and outright fatigue. How do we keep from disadvantaging our children by our parenting? Everyone has an opinion – some more educated and well-thought-out than others. Here are two:

The Silent Tragedy Affecting Today’s Children – Victoria Prooday – Prooday is an occupational therapist and educator on parenting all-round healthy children. This article sets up her premise that parents are the most instrumental in providing their children with the foundation for growing up resilient. Her bullet points are easily accomplished in most situations: technology-free meals, chore assignments, time outside, training children in emotions, and teaching them manners are just some of what she advises. Read and consider the other of Prooday’s points. Being invested and emotionally connected ourselves to our children is crucial.

Do You Agree With This Viral Post About the “Silent Tragedy” of Spoiled Children? – Jessica Suss – English teacher, writer Suss sounds a cautious rebuttal to Prooday’s article. She agreed with much of what she prescribed, but she objected to the tone of the “Silent Tragedy” piece. Suss argues that Prooday was talking to wealthier parents rather than those who might not have the means to carry out all her prescriptions. “Healthy food at every meal is a great goal, so long as you can afford it. But when more than 100 million people in America are food insecure, getting anything on the table is a better goal. Playing outside is also great, but if you live in the city or in an area that’s unsafe (as many lower-income families do), you’re not going to be able to complete the daily, hour-long hike Prooday says is necessary for a healthy child. And family game nights and dinners are all well and good, but when parents are working two jobs (or nontraditional hours), that might not be feasible.”

Two viewpoints – one prompting parents to be more intentional and the other giving a pass to parents – depending on the day and the situation, we need both.

10 Alternative Parenting Styles That Might Be Right For You – Samantha Steiner – Interesting Read; 10 parenting styles? Still, interesting.

3) Answered Prayer – I mentioned at the top about family illness. Our youngest granddaughter was very ill for about a week.

I can’t say enough of what it meant that so many prayed for her. We are so thankful for answered prayer and that she is back to her fun, lively self. When life takes us and those we love into the back of ambulances and down corridors of emergency departments of hospitals…we never know what will happen next. So thankful for those who wait with us, and encourage us, and serve us…all when they have their own situations that need attention. Thank God, thank you, and thank God for you.

4) The Gentling Nature of Christmas – It’s long since passed, both Western and Eastern Christmas. We still have our Christmas lights up…just because. It’s winter and feels darker than the rest of the year. Those lights warm the world where we are, so we have no rules as to exactly when we put away all the decorations.

Whether we celebrate Christmas or not, I think it’s true that there’s a gentling nature in this holiday. People are more thoughtful of others, more generous, more willing to give space to others. In general. Even in politics…well, sometimes.

I wanted to just include three short videos with Christmas themes that speak to the beautiful and connecting nature of Christmas. One is a scene from The Andy Griffith Show. The second is a performance of Saviour – The Story of God’s Passion For His People. [On the second video, 14 minutes in, you hear the singer Wintley Phipps. Any opportunity to hear him sing is magical.] The last video is the 2019 John Lewis Christmas advert…so darling.

5) A Bunch of Great Reads – It’s been over a month since I’ve posted my Friday Faves. Lots of stuff that has influenced and enlightened me. I didn’t want to miss sharing it all with you. Photo Credit: Needpix

So here goes. 10 of my favorites from the last few weeks – all very different – take your pick.

10 Simple Ways to Take Care of Yourself

We’re Treating Friendships Like Transactions and It’s Ruining Relationships – Ephrat Livni

What Happened to Richmond’s Thriving Black Community of Navy Hill?

10 Books to Give You Superpowers in 2020 – William Treseder

Emily Norton Opens Up About Battling Depression as a Caregiver – Alikay Wood

What Widowers Wonder at Night – Erich Bridges

Q & A with Sherry Stout – Building Capacity and Collaboration for Energy Resilience [Sherry Stout is a dear friend of ours. Fun to see her in print.]

No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore – Adam Minter

The Curse of the Honeycrisp Apple Deena Shanker & Lydia Mulvany

Who Killed the Knapp Family? Nicholas Kristof and

Bonuses:

The True Story Behind Your Thanksgiving Cornbread – Adina Steiman

Enneagram & Coffee Facebook Page

Photo Credit: Facebook, Country Girls Do It Better

Worship Wednesday – This Is Christmas – Kutless

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! – John 1:1, 14

This is Christmas. So many beautiful and as well as a few hard memories attached to it. My dad died on Christmas Day in 2016. He loved Christmas and made it all the more fun for all of us.

I wanted to write today…but like many days recently, the words are not coming. Writing takes time…and thought. Life itself takes precedence even though writing can be life to us writers.

Life is precious and calls for us to notice it and to savor every moment, and every person within those moments. It’s been 3 1/2 years since my breath-taking cancer diagnosis, I am fortunate. 3 1/2 years out is a very good thing.

My writing will come back, but for today it will be just a moment with you…a moment, a few pictures, and a worship song.

Merry Christmas. If it’s not your holiday, enjoy its gentling nature.

What is Christmas?

Wonder…of children, grandchildren, and the birth of one special baby…the Christ child.

Christmas Music – so varied and glorious we start listening in October.

Family – both with us and not able to be.

Friends – near and far.

Food…so much food.

Serving others.

Traditions – favorite books and movies, all the lights, treasured ornaments on the Christmas tree, outings…and those quiet staying in times.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown:

Worship with me to the song This Is Christmas by the band Kutless:

Do you find it hard to sleep tonight
Resting by the Christmas lights?
Could there be something you forgot?
Beyond the bows, and mistletoe
The tree with presents wrapped below
There’s more to this than you had ever thought?
Have we lost the reason that we celebrate each year?

[Chorus:]
What is Christmas?
If there never was a Savior wrapped in a manger
What is Christmas without Christ?

Remember how the story goes
God’s gift was wrapped in swaddling clothes
Beneath the star, one great and holy night
The shepherds heard the angels sing
The wise men brought an offering
Peace on Earth began in Bethlehem
Have we lost the reason that we celebrate each year?

[Chorus:]
What is Christmas?
If there never was a Savior wrapped in a manger
What is Christmas?
If the angels never sang ‘Glory to the new born king?’
What is Christmas without Christ?

There’d be no
Glo-oo-oo-oo-ria
In excelsis deo
Glo-oo-oo-oo-ria
In excelsis deo

What is Christmas?
If there never was a Savior wrapped in a manger
What is Christmas without Christ?
This is Christmas
It’s all about the Savior wrapped in a manger
This is Christmas
Because of Jesus Christ
This is Christmas
Because of Christ
Because of Christ*

I pray your Christmas is filled with all the good of this day. Whether words come or not…that you may know the love meant for you in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. May we also take every opportunity to “give it away“.

[Video above featured Samaritan’s Purse which is a great organization. We personally support the smaller Baptist Global Response. Both give us opportunities to give to world’s neediest.]

*Lyrics to This Is Christmas – Songwriters: Jon Micah Sumrall, David  M. Lubben

A Christmas Letter to Every Mama – Sally Clarkson

When Christmas Is Hard – the God of Comfort and Joy – Deb Mills

Merry Christmas, from Dave & me